'I've lost two husbands to banditry; silence the guns'

Lero Moding, 45, during an interview at Lomelo Primary School in Kapedo, the border of Baringo and Turkana counties, on November 14, 2023.The mother of six lost his two husbands to banditry. One was killed in Napeitom village, Turkana East,  10 years ago, while the other was shot dead in Kapedo in 2022.

Photo credit: Florah Koech I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Perennial raids have been blamed on proliferation of illegal arms, boundary disputes, and political incitement.
  • Residents of Kepedo say their lives have been reduced to a gamble.

As she sits under a tree at Lomelo Primary School, a few metres from Kapedo shopping centre, to shield herself from the afternoon’s scorching sun, she holds her chin, perhaps lost in thoughts.

A stone’s throw away from where she is, a peace meeting is underway at the school’s hall. It has been organised by Interpeace, an international organisation for peacebuilding that has brought together neighbouring communities in the restive Suguta Valley.

The peace forum is officiated by Interpeace president Itonde Kakoma and directors Renee Lariviere and Hassan Ismail, among other officials. The aim is to bring the warring communities together and forge peaceful coexistence.

Though she is not among the participants, for Lero Moding, the outcome of the meeting, which aims to broker a peace deal between the Turkana and the Pokot, is crucial……she has borne the brunt of perennial inter-communal conflicts and stock theft in the war-torn region.

In a recent exclusive interview with Nation.Africa, the mother of six narrates how she is a victim of runaway insecurity, a double tragedy that saw her lose two husbands at the hands of armed assailants.

Fighting back tears, Lero says she was married to Loyamakwar Moding from Napeitom village in Turkana East and they had four children.

“One morning in 2010, my husband took his breakfast and as usual, drove dozens of his goats to the grazing fields, a few kilometres away…. that was the last time I saw him alive,” she says.

Hours later, armed criminals struck the village and the grazing field where her husband and his counterparts were herding, and tragedy struck. Her husband was among three herders who had been shot dead in the attack, and all their livestock driven away by the armed attackers, leaving them paupers.

After burying her husband, reality hit her that she was now the sole breadwinner, with virtually nothing to feed her four children who were young at the time.

The raiders, whom they suspected came from the neighbouring community, stole all their livestock, their only source of livelihood.

Lero left her matrimonial home in Napeitom village and relocated with her children to Kapedo. This is where the majority of her relatives lived and she hoped to get support from them when overwhelmed with the new challenge of widowhood.

A few years later, the now 45-year-old met a new husband, Egis Akonya, in Kapedo. They decided to start a family together, to ease the burden of being the sole breadwinner. With him, she got two other children.

Last year, as fate would have it, her new husband left the house to a nearby shopping centre, a few metres away.

Lero, amid sobs, narrates that minutes after he stepped out, they heard gunshots at a nearby bush……armed criminals from the neighbouring community had descended on the village that was synonymous with attacks.

Lero Moding, 45, overwhelmed with emotions during an interview at Lomelo Primary School in Kapedo, the border of Baringo and Turkana counties, on November 14, 2023.The mother of six lost his two husbands to banditry. One was killed in Napeitom village, Turkana East,  10 years ago, while the other was shot dead in Kapedo in 2022.

Photo credit: Florah Koech I Nation Media Group

Sadly, the attackers had shot her husband. They had been hiding at a cactus plantation that surrounded the village commonly referred to as Kijiji.

“Some locals who had been at the shooting scene, and fled into the bushes, responded and took him to the nearby Kapedo health centre…. the attack had left him nursing two gunshot injuries on the hip.

"He got some first aid and was then rushed to Marigat Sub-County Hospital, many kilometres away. He died on the way to the facility from excessive bleeding,” says the distraught woman, amid sobs.

“I cannot explain why I have become a victim of circumstances…. losing two husbands to banditry. I have now been left to provide for the six children, with virtually nothing to rely on for a living. We just live one day at a time, uncertain of tomorrow. The burden is too heavy for me to bear,” explains Lero, who is visibly pregnant.

She has been traumatised to an extent that whenever criminals strike the area, she feels she is the next person to be killed.

“I no longer sleep and even if something falls down, whether a stick, or any other thing, I almost collapse because I relate every sound to a gunshot. I am almost falling into depression, but there is no one to help. Almost every family here in Kapedo has lost more than one family member to banditry,” says Lero.

She wipes her tears at intervals while adjusting her old headscarf. She tells Nation.Africa that though several meetings have been held in the troubled area over the years, she is hopeful that the one being held in Kapedo today will restore sanity once and for all.

“I yearn for peace. I am tired of gunshots that rend the air in this village every time…it rekindles bad memories. We have been turned into prisoners in our own homes, where one cannot move freely even to provide for their children.

“We rely on well-wishers for virtually everything. I long for a time when I can go to the river to fetch water or reeds to weave baskets for sale, without fear of being preyed on by the gun-toting criminals,” she notes, pensively gazing at the clear sky.

“You can imagine losing two husbands to banditry. I wish those attending this peace meeting can be sincere and be peace ambassadors in the villages. The guns should be silenced once and for all,” adds the widow.

A spot check by Nation.Africa metres away from Lomelo Primary School reveals a grim picture of the magnitude the locals in Kapedo, a common border between Baringo and Turkana counties, have suffered because of insecurity……dozens of graves, heaped with stones, occupy a radius of an acre.

Locals say more than 80 per cent are people who were killed by armed criminals.

Due to the perennial banditry attacks by the neighbouring community, Kapedo is host to a platoon of officers from the General Service Unit (GSU), Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), defence forces camp at Chesitet and a number of police reservists.

Benta Arot, a youth from the locality, says locals here don’t choose where to live—that is suicidal. For the purpose of safety, their manyattas (houses) have been built at one place, at the shopping centre, a few metres from the police camps, so that in case bandits strike, they can be secure.

Boundary tussles have been cited as the major issue pitting the warring Pokot and Turkana communities living in the disputed area. The scramble for the resource-rich area has also resulted in perennial bloody conflicts, where hundreds of residents, including security officers deployed in the area, have been killed over the years.

The two communities lay claim to the disputed 18-acre parcel.

“Living in Kapedo is like a gamble, sometimes it is peaceful while at other times it is too porous for us to even come out of our houses. In most cases, armed criminals attack even villagers going about their daily activities for no reason.

“Sometimes they also shoot at learners on the playing field, the more reason we still need more security officers here. Sometimes they even shoot at worshippers during a church service,” Benta explains.

Mr Kakoma, the Interpeace president, attributes the runaway insecurity menace in the troubled Suguta Valley to proliferation of illegal arms, boundary tussles, and political incitement.

He calls on the neighbouring communities to surrender the guns and forge peaceful coexistence to pave the way for development in the area.
“The region is grappling with myriad challenges, including high illiteracy levels and poor development, which need to be addressed to end the insecurity menace once and for all,” says Mr Kakoma.